How do I apply to grad school after taking a few years off to work?
July 13, 2005 11:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm a recent college graduate who is taking a few years off to work before going to grad school. Since I'm taking a few years off how should I handle the need to have academic letters of recommendation when I do apply?

Paticularly I'm concerned that since it will be a few years down the road my past professors may not remember my academic performance. Now that I've left school should I make an effort to keep in touch with professors who I would consider asking in the future? Any other advice on applying to grad school (Public Policy) after having taken a few years off to work?
posted by mhaw to Education (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would get in touch with the professors now, talk about your plans, and ask them what they've done in similar situations in the past. You can't be the only one. They may offer to write the letter now and stick it in a file cabinet until you need it.
posted by bobot at 11:30 AM on July 13, 2005

I kept in touch with some the key profs... just an e-mail or two once of twice a year. They were happy to hear from me.

When the time comes, prepare them with a fresh resume, a generic version of the statement you use for grad school, and any points you'd like them to hit on (i.e., anything not obvious from your resume, statement, and transcripts). I think most professor would be happy to take it from there.

Also consider seeking letters of recommendation from bosses and others youve worked with., especially if you will be working in a field that's relevant to your grad degree. If you're just working in a coffee shop to get your head on straight post-college, I would strongly consider volunteering so that you make good contacts and can show that you used your post-college years well.

On preview:
I would recomment NOT having then write the letter now and sticking it in a file cabinet for a couple of years. I graduated 3 years ago and am a *very* different person now (and, in fact, a better candidate for graduate study) than I was as a freshly minted BA. Also, your academic interests may change. I was convinced that I'd get an MFA in creative writing or PhD in Lit when I graduated... now I'm deciding between education psych and psych. Very different.

Another issue re: taking time off- If you're program requires GRE IIs, it might be best to make sure you ace them so that it doesn't look like you've forgotten everything from undergrad.
posted by lalalana at 11:42 AM on July 13, 2005

Keep in touch, and obviously keep all your papers. You'll want to provide your profs with copies of your papers (with their comments) when you ask them to write the letters. You'd want to do that even if they were writing the letters now.

Also, try to avoid having them write the letters now. You'll want up to date letters that include the things that you'll have done between now and then. And of course they'll have to be customized for each school you're applying to and they'll have to fill out the forms that the schools require, so it's not something they can do now anyway.
posted by duck at 11:43 AM on July 13, 2005

Good point from lalalana about GREs. I would take the General GRE ASAP too. You'll do better now than you would a year or two out of school once you're not in the test-taking mode anymore.
posted by duck at 11:44 AM on July 13, 2005

I'm starting graduate school in the fall, and I graduated from college in 2000, so it's been a few years.

I've done a fairly good job keeping up with most of my professors, but unfortunately, my advisor died in the middle, so I lacked his recommendation. I also had the benefit of going to a small liberal arts school, so the professors all remembered me.

When I asked for the recommendations four years after I left, they each asked me to provide them with a current resume, a list of my accomplishments in school, and details about the program I was applying to.

As long as you keep in touch with your professors, you'll be fine. In fact, you'll probably get better recommendations after keeping in touch for a few years than if you had just asked for a recommendation after graduation.
posted by AaRdVarK at 11:55 AM on July 13, 2005

I taught college for five years and wrote loads of letters of rec. I'd want to write them NOW if you were just in my class. In other words, I'd prefer my students come to me soon after I've taught them so I can remember them well as I'm writing. Now that could mean I keep the file for a few year, or it could mean you keep the letters. I just have a STRONG pref for writing soon after the class. I HATE writing letters of rec years after the fact. With about 100 students a year (a full prof would have more), I remember all the faces, but not the details that go into a great letter of rec.
posted by abbyladybug at 12:02 PM on July 13, 2005

In my situation, I got a few stock letters of rec written while I was in school and put into the reference letter vault at the career services office.

But I also kept in touch with 3 key profs, kept them abreast of my life changes and career path... they helped in those letters of rec.

I'd also try to get a professional letter of rec. If you're not working in the public policy field now, try to find someone who can speak of your professionalism at least.

And finally, prep for your GREs. I'd take a prep class too. GREs are great because you can take them whenever you want and you can take them multiple times. But better to take a Kaplan practice test and know where you stand then have a bad score on record.
posted by k8t at 12:34 PM on July 13, 2005

I'm starting graduate school this fall at my top pick after seven years in the work world. I wasn't close to any of my professors in college, as I did my undergraduate work in a very large department where we weren't required to narrow our focus.

As such, I submitted NO letters of recommendation from professors. All of my letters were from employers who could speak to my ability to research and write reports relevant to our business. I don't think this hurt me at all, as the reports I've written post-college have been better and more thorough than any of my undergrad papers (payment and threat of dismissal is a far better incentive than a C (though I didn't get Cs but rather received As--just for the record)).

GRE-wise, I took them just out of college, and again last fall (as they had expired), and got virtually identical scores. There's nothing a little bit of test prep can't bring back . . .

So, my advice is to get letters from people who can speak best of your abilities. If that's professors right now, great. But it might be future employers as well, so don't count them out.

Most importantly, wait to apply to graduate school until you KNOW you're ready. I almost went early on, but bailed during the application process due to too much doubt. I know I would have been unhappy and going for the wrong reasons. Now that I'm heading back (and in a completely different field), I know my choice is the right one. The passion is there, and I'm going to learn, not for a career boost.
posted by kables at 12:41 PM on July 13, 2005

I took three years off between undergrad and grad school. I had my professors write the recs when I graduated and put them on file with the career placement office at the university. I strongly suggest you do the same, because:

1) Keeping in touch with professors may be more difficult than you think. And this way, if you do lose touch, you only have to contact your university to get the letter, instead of having to track your old profs down.

2) No matter how well you keep in touch with the profs, they will write better letters now than they will in a few years. By "better," I mean more accurate reflections of your undergraduate work and preparation for graduate school. Grad schools will be looking at these letters for information on how you did as an undergrad. Strike while their memories are fresh.

3) If you do things in the intevening years, get someone else - coworker, supervisor, etc. - to write you a letter about those experiences. If this means sending an extra reference letter, so be it. You can indicate in your cover letter that you are sending an extra reference regarding your work in the intervening years. One letter that discusses your recent work in depth is better than 3 that gesture vaguely at it.

And BTW, I think its an excellent decision to take time off before applying to grad school. Good luck!
posted by googly at 12:49 PM on July 13, 2005

I worked for a couple of years, and got offered a graduate student position. Since that was the case, I just gave email contacts instead of asking for letters.

When it came to grants, that was another matter - needed letters (and hadn't gotten known by any of the new professors yet).

Luckily, I stayed in contact with some of my profs. Emails. Christmas cards. Also, I did the undergrad at a small private liberal arts college. Since I was working in research, my supervisor/bosses were all scientists so I used some of them for letters.

I'm in the camp opposite of googly, I think that my working was a disservice to my academic career - but I'm speaking from a position of bitterness and envy (friends who graduated the same year are so far ahead of me academically now; and since I made the mistake of going for the MSc when my ultimate goal was PhD - I'm not going to have a "real" job for another 6 or so years - argh. Being poor sucks.).
posted by PurplePorpoise at 2:06 PM on July 13, 2005

I applied to grad school five years after finishing college. I hadn't kept in touch with any of my professors, so I asked the one who I thought was most likely to remember me. I'm not sure if she actually did remember me or not, but she asked me to send her copies of some of the papers I had done in her classes, to refresh her memory on the kind of work I had done. Luckily I had saved all of my papers, complete with her written comments.

Something to keep in mind is that if you don't keep in touch with your professors, they might not be at the same university when you try to find them in a few years. I had to do a bit of work to track down my former prof; luckily she has an uncommon name so google helped me out.

Also, if you take off 5 or more years between college and grad school, many grad schools will consider you a "non-traditional" student and it will give you a distinct advantage in the application process.
posted by clarissajoy at 2:12 PM on July 13, 2005

I had no academic letters of recommendation when I went back to school a few years later; it had been a long time and I was a mediocre student as an undergraduate anyway. If I was remembered it wouldn't have been for anything I would have been happy to have in a letter. But that was just fine. I was applying to grad school on the basis of who I was and what I had done as an adult. I submitted letters from my employers and did well on the GREs. I got into a top 5 school, and the school(s) I've been to have all been happy about my additional life experience and the maturity we all hope goes along with it.
posted by dness2 at 2:24 PM on July 13, 2005

When I applied to grad school the "procedure" for the letter of reference was that it had to be writen by the professors and had to be accompanies by a completed questionaire supplied by the university in question. Both these items had to be placed in a scealed envelope and the professor had to sign the envelope flap. I'm not sure if this procedure is universal but it seems common with Canadian universities. Unless you know ahead of time where you plan to apply and in what faculty|department you plan to apply you likely can't do this now.

My suggestion are as follows:
  1. Ask your professors to write a generic leter of recomendation now.
  2. Keep in touch with your professors.
  3. When comes time for the professor to write you letters of reference, present them with the original generic leter, a current copy of your resume, any appropriate documents such as examination results for any qualifiers (GMAT, MCAT, LCAT and such) and if you think proper proofs of good performance in a relevant work environment (letters of reference from your boss or yearly performancce reviews).
In addtion, it might be smart to send your professors a christmas card or something.
posted by cm at 3:43 PM on July 13, 2005

« Older New York City First Visit   |   Geophotopodcasting my way across the USA Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.